Saturday, August 27, 2011

Moving past that little bit of math the other day, we turn to philosophy, which is like math except much less precise, much less useful and a lot more open to discussions by laypeople in altered states of consciousness. Also a more common subject of my blogginations.

As you have no doubt cleverly deduced from the title, there is a website called, and it claims to have proof of God's existence. The even cleverer may suspect I disagree, and that an explanation of that disagreement will be in fact the main point of this post. You are entirely correct.

The format of the website is quite simple. At each stage, you are faced with a number of propositions, 4 at first and 2 at all other steps, and you have to choose one. If you choose the wrong one (as determined by the author), you are directed to a page explaining your foolishness and urging you to choose the right one. As you progressively accept the propositions deemed correct, you are guided to a final "proof" which takes these propositions as premises and God's existence as a conclusion.

It should be noted that I don't necessarily disagree with the premises. I may be hesitant on a few, but essentially all feel correct or close enough. It's just the final reasoning I object to. So while I say a thing or two about them, the really important part is just the proof. Skip to that if you want to.
Didn't skip? OK, then, we start at step 0, faced with 4 options regarding absolute truth. They are:
1) Absolute truth exists: This is the option deemed correct by the author, and mostly I agree. I wouldn't say I'm sure, but it certainly seems my best guess.

2) Absolute truth does not exist: This leads to a page titled "Absolute truth does not exist" with two options: Absolutely true and False. Both lead to the same place, a page with the title "This is not a glitch (think about it)", and shows the same 4 options that at the beginning. Of course, the author refuses to consider the possibility that the non-existence of absolute truth is relatively true.

3) I don't know if absolute truth exists: The page you get is exactly the same as if you had clicked the prior option, only with a correspondingly different title. Both options again lead to the "think about it" page. Again, the author's insistence on binary propositions leaves the obvious answers out.

4) I don't care if absolute truth exists: The followup is just a "thank you for visiting" page with an "exit" button that links to Disney. Is knowledge apathy highly correlated with being a Disney fan? Mysteries of life.

Like I said,I essentially agree here, so I moved forward to an introductory page which has some blahblahblah about how the existence of God should be obvious but anyway here's some proof and whatnot. Moving right along, we get to step 1, about logic: 
1) Laws of logic exist: While one might quibble about what "existing" means for a logical law, once again I essentially agree.
2) Laws of logic do not exist: The page claims that either you arrived at this conclusion using logic, or it was an arbitrary decision and you might choose otherwise next time. Once again, this is not strictly exhaustive, one might come to decisions using non-logical but time-invariant reasoning. People do not, in fact, use logic alone to come to most decisions, but it's not really a point worth arguing.
Onwards to step 2 (electric boogaloo), which deals with the subject of mathematics:
1) Laws of mathematics exist: This is actually equivalent to step one. Math is just logic, wherein you say that, given some axioms, something is necessarily true or necessarily false. Accepting logic is accepting math, and viceversa. So I again agreed.
2) Laws of mathematics do not exist: This point essentially says that you use math all the time, so you can't deny it and be consistent. I agree, though one might argue about the subtleties of using math vs declaring math to be law, etc.

Which leads us to step 3, which leaves the purely logical domain and enters the empirical one:
1) Laws of science exist: Agreed, with the usual provisions on what it means for a law to exist, etc. But, yes, I do believe laws of science are real and useful, otherwise I wouldn't be trying to become a scientist.
2) Laws of science don't exist: It redirects to a page with the same argument as above, except for science instead of math

And then step 4 which takes us to the complex field of ethics:
1) Absolute moral laws exist: This one is tricky. I'm a moral realist, i.e. I consider right and wrong to be objective concepts. Results of quirks of the evolution of humans as sapient social animals, ultimately, but nonetheless real. What I am not is a deontologist, i.e. someone who believes that morality is a set of rules that must be obeyed absolutely, which is what one usually thinks when talking about moral laws. But nonetheless there are laws concerning right and wrong, or at least one law, which says (roughly) "calculate the possible consequences of your actions, weigh them according to what you value, and do the best thing possible". So I agree or disagree depending on what exactly is meant. This is ultimately of little relevance to the final proof, though.
2) Absolute moral laws do not exist: This leads to a second set options, asking whether raping children for fun is absolutely wrong or not. I actually can conceive of situations where raping children for fun would, in fact, be the right thing to do. They are convoluted and ridiculously improbable, of course, but still. If you pick "not", the next page goes on about how moral subjectivism is bad and blah. I could respond to it (I used to be a moral subjectivist, and had seen similar arguments before), but it would get long and boring.
Steps 5, 6, and 7 are on the nature of all these laws previously mentioned. Step 5 deals specifically with their materialness :
1) Laws of logic, mathematics, science and absolute morality are immaterial: I prefer "abstract" to "immaterial", since the latter implies they are made of something, which just isn't so. But in any case, sure, they certainly aren't objects made of matter. They are things that hold true about things that are made of matter, (or about other abstract entities).
2) Laws of logic, mathematics, science and morality are material: Leads to a page asking you to say where in nature you can actually find them and blah.
Step 6 deals with universality:
1) Laws of (etc.) are universal: I don't really consider something to be a law (in the sense used here, not the legal one) unless it is, in fact, universal. A law which only works in some circumstances is not a law, just a special case of a greater, actual law. So yeah, sure.
2) Laws of (etc.) are individual: Once again our friend ignores a vast number of possibilities. There are a number of different scales between universal and individual. But anyway, leads to a page using the same "you assume X to live your daily life so you can't deny it".
Step 7 is highly similar to its direct predecessor, but this time it's about change:
1) Laws of etc. are unchanging: Again, if laws change over time they are just special cases of laws that dictate their behaviour at each time.
2) Laws of etc. are changing: Leads to the typical argument.

And finally, we arrive at step 8, the part that is the purported proof rather than just the building up the premises.

The argument begins as follows, and I quote:
To reach this page you had to acknowledge that immaterial, universal, unchanging laws of logic, mathematics, science, and absolute morality exist. Universal, immaterial, unchanging laws are necessary for rational thinking to be possible. Universal, immaterial, unchanging laws cannot be accounted for if the universe was random or only material in nature.
A random universe can very well be lawfully random. The Copenhagen interpretation comes to mind. And I don't see why a purely material universe can't have statements about it that are true yet not material themselves, I mean that's what most materialists mean by material universe, myself included. So this "cannot be accounted for" thing is just glaringly lacking in justification. When you consider the long essays over ultimately inconsequential things, this is quite annoying (I say ultimately inconsequential, because you don't really need to agree to all the laws put forth, it's enough to agree with one set of them for the purposes of the argument)

It continues to say:
The Bible teaches us that there are 2 types of people in this world, those who profess the truth of God's existence and those who suppress the truth of God's existence. The options of 'seeking' God, or not believing in God are unavailable. The Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God as it declares that the existence of God is so obvious that we are without excuse for not believing in Him.
Because obviously, someone who doesn't already believe God exists gives half a shit about whether the Bible allows us not to believe, or whether it considers God to be evident. I mean, the Revelation of Ungod teaches us that gods don't exist, but I don't expect that to sway the author of this piece.

Anyway, that is followed by some corresponding Bible verses (Romans 1:18-21, if you're interested), and then the remark:

The God of Christianity is the necessary starting point to make sense of universal, abstract, invariant laws by the impossibility of the contrary. These laws are necessary to prove ANYTHING. Therefore...
Whoa, mate. How the fuck d'you figure that? Even accepting your premise that a material universe isn't enough, why does the starting point need be a god, let alone your god? This claims to be a logical proof, so what possible chain of reasoning based on the premises so far results in "The God of Christianity", a complex proposition not mentioned once in any premise? Someone doesn't understand what "logical proof" is, methinks. New elements don't just jump out of thin air.

The final statement of the proof is "The Proof that God exists is that without Him you couldn't prove anything." It gets its own page and all. And while I could argue the finer points of whether you actually can prove anything at all, that's not really where the proof fails. At each step there were subtle points that can be argued to death, but it's useless to get bogged down on that when there's that giant gaping hole in the argument.

So putting aside my hesitation at some of the premises and whatnot, my refutation of this "proof" is short and simple: There's no reason given why a material universe doesn't account for universal law, and there's even less reason to assume the only thing that does is one particular God. Anything else would be nitpicking.

It's disappointing. With all the build-up and extensive arguing for each mostly obvious premise, the final steps of the proof, the most vital and the most controversial, are stated outright with no reasoning behind them.


  1. I am Catholic myself, but the "argument" that site provides is ridiculous. I agree with you about every single step being debatable, possibly let alone the first one (logic and maths are not quite the same thing to me, but that's irrelevant), and the final paralogism is completely undefensible. So yeah, I believe that "faith" is really (by definition) something that can't be logically proved. Trying something different would mean both insulting and ignoring what logic really is. There are indeed more valid arguments which prove that faith cannot be proved, and they do so in like two easy steps (strategy stealing arguments provide an example of this). Nice analysis, by the way.

  2. I agree with the argument on the site, the basic issue is that you confuse deductive proofs with presuppositional arguments, that’s why you don’t seem to be able to really touch the crux of the argument.

    "There's no reason given why a material universe doesn't account for universal law, and there's even less reason to assume the only thing that does is one particular God"


    Then why didn’t you tell me how you know these universal laws exist?
    I can tell you how I know they exist, they bible confirms them all, and the objective nature of God character accounts for them all. Please answer my question.

  3. You do realise you're not actually answering my (implied) question, so it's rather rude of you to posit one of your own.

    But I'll play along. What is a universal law? A statement about the universe that holds true*. In Conway's Game of Life, for example, "if at generation g all the neighbours of a cell are dead, then that cell will be dead at generation g+1" is a universal law. It is true by definition; any mathematical object where that law doesn't hold is not Conway's Life, but something else.

    Are there such things in this universe? Yes. This universe contains minds that are able to learn about their world (proof: from my point of view, the fact that I'm writing this. From yours, the fact that you're reading it). If nothing holds true for this universe, then in particular it should not be true that minds can exist, and they should not be able to learn because, after all, there's nothing to learn.

    Typically, one would not express universal laws in terms of "minds of this particular sort can exist". This is because it's inefficient. Indeed, one typically wants some small set of comprehensive statements that cover all, rather than a long (perhaps infinite) list of particular cases. One might even say that only in the former sense we're really talking about universal laws. It's worth noting, thought, that existence of particular-case laws implies the existence of general-case laws. If you have a set of laws, then either: a) it is possible to rewrite them as a smaller set, such that all laws in the large set are logical consequences the smaller set, and no logical consequence of the smaller set is not true in the universe. Or, b) it is not possible.

    If b), then the set we already have is fundamental. If a), one can repeat the argument until b). Admittedly, there's the possibility of weird stuff when the set is infinite, I don't feel like getting into the maths of it because then we have to play around with definitions of "smaller" and nobody has time for that. Suffice it that, if we have an infinite set of true statements, and no generating rule that is finite, then we are in a very weird case and this universe does not at all look like such is the case (i.e. we don't see an infinity of things that are true yet are completely unrelated to other true things) Indeed, the model of a finite and small set of basic laws is incredibly successful in explaining observed results, we typically call it "physics".

    So that's how I know universal laws exist.

    Now, answer my question. Why is it that material universe can't account for universal law? How do you know that only a god of a particular kind can?

    *This definition is probably not ideal. If you dislike it, provide your own and I'll restate my argument in its terms (assuming it's in fact a reasonable definition and we're talking about the same thing).

  4. "Even accepting your premise that a material universe isn't enough, why does the starting point need be a god, let alone your god?" The strategy is based on the opponents willingness to assent to the claim that the Christian God provides a plausible mechanism to ground certainty of knowledge. Once this is assented to (and if one accepts the importance of epistemic certainty) the burden is on the opponent to provide an alternate mechanism to establish epistemic certainty. Whether it is a "leap" to the Christian God is irrelevant to the question of whether that hypothesis provides something an alternate hypothesis does not.

    1. I find it quite relevant, because the argument claims to be a logical proof. I.e. every step must be a necessary consequence of the preceding ones. A relative advantage over alternate hypothesis does not make a proof.

      That being said, the relative advantage doesn't exist either. If I'm generous and we remain within the hypothetical where I accept that the material universe is not enough, it is trivial to construct an alternative hypothesis that works equally well as the Christian god. Why? Christianity is a complex hypothesis, with many moving parts. Most of these parts are entirely irrelevant to the matters brought up in the argument; you don't need a prohibition on adultery or a crucified Jesus to say anything about the laws of the universe. Invent some other deity, make it omnipotent and say it created everything, and it's just as satisfactory an explanation as the Christian god. Or, if you don't like gods, postulate a First Principle that created everything and immediately ceased to exist (it doesn't do anything right now, so it's hardly worth calling a god).

      None of these explanations is very satisfying, of course; they were crafted to match the Christian god, not exceed it.